January 24, 2010

god - 1 me - 0

Yesterday was a rough day.

I spent the majority of it in my house, washing clothes and attempting to work on my lesson plans, but yesterday was the day the neighborhood kids discovered I had returned. In the late morning, a couple of them showed up on my doorstep. I made the mistake of letting them in when there were three huge open boxes on the floor, filled with American foodstuffs and candy. I already knew what they wanted, but they acted coy, roaming around the boxes and stealing glances at the things inside. Eventually, one of them started picking through them, just one thing at a time, and asking "hii ni nini?" ("what is this?"). Depending on my response, he'd either look at it some more and put it back, or take some of it and put it in his pockets. He ended up with quite a bit of chocolate, maybe 3 lollipops, and a pen before I ushered them out of the house.

Don't get me wrong, I want to give these kids candy, but to me, this felt more like looting. After hanging out with them outside for a bit, I returned to my house to work on my lesson plans. Within two hours, the kids returned to my door. I told them I had to work, but they continued to knock. After a while, I started to ignore their knocking until they left. That didn't feel very good, but I wanted to get some of my lesson plans done. About 45 minutes later, they showed up again with other kids, again knocking on my door incessantly, this time attempting to open the door themselves. I knew what they wanted, and now it was clear to me that I wasn't going to give it to them. I ignored the knocking again for the first few minutes until I finally lost my patience and walked to the window near the door.

"Unaweza kupata pipi kesho, sasa nahitaji kufanya kazi." ("You can get candy tomorrow, right now I need to do some work.")

"Fungua mlango!" ("Open the door!")

"Nahitaji kufanya kazi sasa!" ("I need to do work right now!")

At one point, one of the children held up a 50 schilling piece, saying "ninanunua pipi," which you can guess meant he was willing to buy candy from me. It was at this point I knew I had to get out of the house. By this time it was nearly 5 in the evening, but I couldn't stand the torture of denying kids candy and having them continuously knocking on my door. It felt like I was running from the problem, but I just didn't want to deal with it anymore.

I walked down to my favorite duka for no other purpose but to get away from my house. I felt a little better after I arrived when I found out there was a Manchester United game on (English football, as you might imagine, is quite popular here). One by one, familiar faces started to show up, the first being Moshi, an old stroke victim I met in the first weeks at site, and then Luka, the second master at my school. I had nearly forgotten about everything else when Moshi invited me to his house for dinner. "Here," I thought, "is a sign of God's providence." I hadn't eaten dinner yet, so I gladly accepted, not even remotely concerned about how intoxicated he was at the moment.

When he finished his drink, we left the duka and I immediately realized what was happening. If you think walking after a stroke is hard, imagine doing it while drunk on the worst roads in the world. I held his hand while he attempted to walk, though most of the time he was bent over at the waist, stumbling to keep his balance. All the while I was thinking, "why does he live so far away?", and "he's been drunk like this a lot, how in the world does he get home if he's alone?" A 5 or 6 minute walk at my normal pace turned into close to 40 minutes. By this time I was thinking "well, at least I did something good today." It was at about that moment that Moshi, among his slurred words of Swahinglish, told me in clear English "you are doing a good thing for me." Normally, a comment like this would make a person feel good. But it wounded me. It hurt.

Earlier that day, I had read Psalm 139, one in which David talks about the far-reaching hand of God. "If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your Hand shall lead me, and Your Right Hand shall hold me." He also talks about His far-reaching knowledge: "You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways." And in verse 16, it says "Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them."

God knew.

He knew this was going to happen. He knew what I was thinking, where I was going, what I was doing. He knew everything. Worst of all, He knew my failures. He knew I was going to fail before I did. He knew I was going to lose my temper with those kids. He knew I was going to try to escape. That's what wounded me most of all. Tears are falling as I type this because it still hurts. I guess it was something that I hadn't really thought about before, that God knows my failures as well as He knows my victories, or at least it hadn't hit home until now. It was ordained before I was born. The other thing that hurts is that He knows me better than I know myself. It's so hard to understand how deeply personal that is until moments like these. It's logical to think that you are the self-taught expert on your own life, but all you have to go on is your past, your thoughts, and your feelings (which, in many cases, distorts your perspective). But God sees everything; the past, the present, the future. The thoughts you deny you ever thought, the feelings you suppress and ignore, the actions you try to forget. This is one of those suffering moments I talked about, when reality hits. I had one idea, and God had another. Guess who came out the victor.

Back to the dusty road I was on with Moshi, lit only with a first quarter moon shrouded by clouds, we had reached a point where it appeared that he could no longer lift his right leg enough to continue. As luck would have it, a few neighbors were out walking and saw us. One of them fetched a wheel cart (normally used for carrying large jugs of water) and we lifted him into it. Here I was met with one of the disparities between our cultures. Even drunk and being wheeled around in a cart like a victim of the plague, he was still receiving "shikamoo"s (greeting of respect shown to someone who is your elder) from passerbys. We arrived at Moshi's house after about 2 more minutes of walking and wheeling, and I respectfully turned down the offer for dinner, seeing the family had their hands full with their babu.

I stumbled back to the duka, holding back tears like a kid who didn't get his way. There, I humbly ate with my second master, who gladly paid for dinner while I told him about the 45 minute pilgrimage to Moshi's house. And there, with corrected perspective, God revealed His providence.

No one likes to suffer, but as long as God is winning in the tally...